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Today in History: Ford's First Order

Henry Ford wasn’t the first out of the gate with automobiles and the internal-combustion engine – Daimler had a jump on that in the late 19th century – but Ford was definitely the first to see the potential of mass production, mass marketing, and the economy of scale that could make cars affordable for the middle class.

On July 15, 1903, Ford Motor Company took its first order, for an $850 two-cylinder Model A with a “tonneau,” or back seat. Manufactured at Ford’s early Mack Street plant in Detroit, the car was delivered to its new owner, a Chicago dentist, about a week later.

Ford had been working as chief engineer at Detroit’s Edison Illuminating Company plant when he designed and built his first car, the Quadricycle, in 1896. By 1903, he had lined up the investors and financing to form the Ford Motor Company, in an assembly room that was no more than 250 by 50 feet. The Model A (not to be confused with the late-1920s model that succeeded the Model T) was a primitive beast, with no top, no windshield, an optional back seat and a flat two-cylinder engine that generated a whopping eight horsepower, for a top speed of 28 mph.

Ford had sunk its entire bankroll into this introductory model; of $28,000 invested in research, development, design and production, Ford had only $223.65 left in his account when Dr. Pfennig bought his Model A. It turned a profit, however, and within the first two months 215 A’s had been sold. By the end of ’03, more than 1000 A’s  had been rolled out, giving Ford the momentum to launch the Model T in 1908. From there, Ford’s place in the automotive world was cemented, and the rest, as they say, was history.